WWTT? Planters Kills Off Mr. Peanut in Viral Marketing Effort Ahead of the Super Bowl

Mr. Peanut survived two World Wars, as well as the white-mold rot crisis of 2012, but at the age of 104 his time had come. Or maybe his death is a hoax. Either way you try to shell this nut, it’s clear that Planters has opted to invest in a viral marketing effort ahead of its Super Bowl ad debut on Feb. 2.

[Update, Jan. 27: Planters announced that following the news of Kobe Bryant’s death on Jan. 26. the company would be pausing the current promotion of the death or Mr. Peanut campaign, however that ad and the “funeral” ad spot are still scheduled to air during the Super Bowl.]

Dearly beloved, we’re gathered here this day to mourn the untimely death of everyone’s favorite dapper legume, Mr. Peanut. Donning his monocle and jaunty hat in 1916, Mr. Peanut survived two World Wars, as well as the white-mold rot crisis of 2012, but at the age of 104 his time had come. Or maybe his death is a hoax, as some would believe. Either way you try to shell this nut, it’s clear that Planters has opted to invest in a viral marketing effort ahead of its Super Bowl third quarter ad appearance on Feb. 2.

On Jan. 22, Planters announced the death of its mascot via social media, which resulted in an outpouring of responses from both brands and consumers alike:

With brands like those above, as well as Toyota, Shake Shack, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Chips Ahoy, and more “mourning” the loss of the nutty icon, Planters followed up on social media with a Super Bowl teaser ad, showcasing just how Mr. Peanut met his untimely demise:

Samantha Hess, brand manager for Planters, said in a statement:

“It’s with heavy hearts that we confirm Mr. Peanut has passed away at 104 years old. He will be remembered as the legume who always brought people together for nutty adventures and a good time. We encourage fans to tune in to Mr. Peanut’s funeral during the third quarter of the Super Bowl to celebrate his life.”

I suppose turning a Super Bowl ad into a funeral for Mr. Peanut is both 1. a fairly unique use of advertising dollars; 2. one way to get people to start talking about the ad before they watch it; and 3. a good opportunity to either surprise viewers (he was never dead!) or launch a new branding initiative.

That said, while supposedly “killing off” an iconic mascot (remember, we didn’t see the body) is quite the branding switch-up, there is no question that this well-timed stunt is the epitome of viral marketing. Just take a look at this Google Trends chart for starters:

Google Trends chart showing the effectiveness of Planter's viral marketing campaign surrounding the death of Mr. Peanut

Mentions about Mr. Peanut (and thus Planters) have jumped significantly due to the viral marketing effort. A Google search for “Mr. Peanut” netted 107 million results Thursday afternoon, showing me media coverage about the anthropomorphized legume’s death from CNN, Deadline, New York Post, Sports Illustrated, AdWeek, Forbes and more.

So sure, people are talking about Mr. Peanut, but does that translate into anything more meaningful than talk? The campaign’s reach was thoroughly amplified, especially due to the #RIPeanut hashtag, but what does going viral mean for Planters?

I think Jason Aten’s article “Yes, Mr. Peanut Is Dead. But Old-School Advertising Is Even Deader” makes an important point about the viral marketing campaign. Referencing Oreo’s tweet during a power outage during Super Bowl XLVII and Arby’s hat tweet during the 2014 Grammy’s, Aten writes:

But the beauty of those tweets was that they happened in reaction to real-world events. That isn’t the case with Mr. Peanut. In fact, there’s literally nothing more manufactured than a pre-planned marketing campaign featuring a tweet announcing the death of a made-up brand character just to generate buzz for a pretend funeral for said character.

Think about the creative meeting for this: Some social media-savvy account manager pitched the idea that this tired mascot really needed to be permanently retired. And, desperate to attract the attention of salty-snack-craving Millennials, the company agreed.

Aten hits the nail on the head: While we can all laugh at the ridiculous responses from other brands to the the social media announcement of the death of a brand mascot, what purpose does this campaign really serve? Mr. Peanut is not a real person, and is this use of social media even real marketing? You tell me.

And, for anyone interested in a little conspiracy theory regarding the death of the mascot, check out this Jan. 14 Facebook post from the Mr. Peanut account … “dying to hit the road”? Talk about some foreshadowing.

Because it’s Friday and we probably could all use a giggle, I will share with you one last Twitter thread:

Pop Tarts responds to Planter's viral marketing effort regarding the death of Mr. Peanut